Turkey 101: Insider Tips For Cooking Success
Crackling crispy, mahogany-brown skin, moist and flavorful meat—who doesn’t love a perfectly roasted holiday turkey?
Sur La Table Chef Martin Gilligan stopped by KCAL9 Monday to spill the secrets behind preparing the most tasty Thanksgiving treats!
Gilligan also had a few key tools on hand to guarantee a gorgeous and flavorful centerpiece for your Thanksgiving table.
Insider Tips for Success:
Selecting a Turkey
With the growing interest in sustainably raised and heritage breeds of turkeys, your choices in the poultry case have exploded over the last several years. Buy the best quality turkey you can afford and read the label carefully.
• Commercially raised birds are bred to develop quickly and deliver the most white meat possible but not always the best flavor. Some of these turkeys also come “pre-based” and are injected with fats and liquid to keep the meat moist. Some people find the flavor and texture lacking.
• Keep in mind that a supermarket turkey labeled as “fresh” can actually be partially frozen at some point. If having a truly fresh turkey is important to you, look for a local turkey farm that sells fresh turkeys.
• If you want an all-natural turkey with no additives, look for certified-organic or free-range turkeys that were not fed any supplements.
• Heritage turkey breeds such as Bourbon Red and Narragansett have made a resurgence recently, and many people find them more flavorful than the Broad-Breasted White which is raised commercially. These turkeys can be challenging to find and expensive compared to the grocery store variety.
Ready for the Oven: Preparing a Turkey for Roasting
Try some of these techniques to add flavor and moisture to your Thanksgiving bird:
• Brining: soaking a turkey in a flavorful mixture of salt and spices can add lots of flavor and moisture to turkey meat. Make sure to buy (and thaw) your turkey two to three days in advance. You can brine in a large stock pot or in a plastic brining bag. Just make sure that you can store the brining turkey in your refrigerator while it brines.
• Dry brining: rubbing the meat with salt helps infuse it with flavor. Carefully loosen the skin from the meat, taking care not to tear the skin. Try to loosen as much skin over the breast, legs, and thighs as possible. Wrap your dry brined turkey in plastic wrap and keep in the refrigerator for 24 to 48 hours before roasting.
• Drying the skin: allowing the bird to sit uncovered in the refrigerator up to 24 hours before roasting lets moisture evaporate for a crispier skin. You can also rub the skin with equal parts of kosher salt and baking powder to draw out more moisture.
• To Stuff or Not to Stuff: many of us grew up with a stuffed turkey, but stuffing increases roasting time which can contribute to a dried-out bird. Keep the cavity empty and bake the stuffing separately for a crunchy top.
Roasting the Turkey
Since white and dark meat cook at different rates, it can be hard to keep the breast moist while waiting for the dark meat to cook. Below are some tricks for ensuring a perfectly cooked turkey through and through:
• Barding: an old-fashioned technique for adding flavor and fat to lean meats.
By covering the turkey with strips of bacon, pancetta, or salt pork, the turkey absorbs their flavor during the roasting process. The pork products also help baste the turkey at the same time. Watch the turkey carefully, removing the pork when it starts to brown too much. Also, if you’ve layered the breast with strips of pork, removed them during the last 30 to 40 minutes of cooking to allow the skin
• Upside Down: roasting the turkey breast side down during the first half of cooking can help protect the breast from cooking too fast.
• Basting: most of us are familiar with coating the bird with pan drippings as it cooks. But be careful not to baste too often since opening and closing the oven door will extend cooking time. Stop basting during the last 30 to 40 minutes of cooking time, since basting adds moisture to the skin and will make it soggy.
• Check the Temperature: the best way to when you’re turkey is done is to take its temperature. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of a thigh without touching the leg bone. Pull the turkey out of the oven when the thigh reaches 160 degrees, since the turkey continues to cook after it leaves the oven by as many as 10 degrees.
Serving the Turkey
• Resting: it’s critical to let your turkey rest before carving. When a turkey roasts, the juices are forced to the center so resting allows the juices to flow back through the entire bird for moist and delicious meat.
• Carving: use a boning knife to remove the legs and thighs. A sharp carving knife will make easy work of slicing the breast meat.
Essential Turkey Tools
A few key products will help you roast and serve a delicious and beautiful bird this holiday season:
• Roasting Pan: a heavy-duty stainless steel roasting pan is the turkey roaster’s most essential tool. Look for one with a heavy bottom containing an aluminum or copper core which helps retain even heat and makes it easy to create the perfect pan gravy. Well constructed, welded handles also make lifting the big bird easier.
• Roasting Rack: a heavy-duty roasting rack ensures a perfectly roasted turkey.
By lifting the bird off the bottom of the roasting pan, the rack allows air to circulate around the turkey for even cooking and crispy skin. Solid-construction racks are sturdy and easy to use.
• Meat thermometer: a meat thermometer is the most accurate way to tell when the bird is done. Instant-read thermometers are simple and quick to use. Digital roasting thermometers often feature probes which stay in the turkey throughout cooking and chime when the turkey reaches a preset temperature, taking all the guesswork out of the process.
• Basting Bulb: a long basting bulb makes coating the turkey with pan juices easy, quick, and safe. Some models are offered as dual injectors and basters, making it simple to infuse your turkey with the pan drippings as well.
• Turkey Lifters: these handy long and wide forks make picking up the turkey easy and more secure.
• Cutting Board: a large, heatproof cutting board provides the perfect surface for turkey carving. Look for a board with a well to catch any meat juices. Some boards are attractive enough to go from kitchen to table.
• Carving Knife: a high quality, super-sharp carving knife makes slicing the turkey a breeze at the holiday table. A long, thin blade allows you to slice (not saw) the breast meat into perfect portions. You can also find carving sets which include a long-handled fork to help you handle the meat slices easily.
• Fat Separator: this heat-proof cup features a special spout that allows you to pour off the fat from your pan drippings for a delicious pan gravy.
Additional Tools and Products
Add these tools to your holiday kitchen to make you turkey preparations easy and fun:
• Brining Bags and Spices: a plastic bag makes brining simple and takes up less space in your refrigerator. Premixed brining spices are a great time saver.
• Moistly Roasted Oven Humidifier: place this slim pan underneath your roasting pan and fill with water, stock, wine, beer or other flavorful liquid. Vents in the pan release steam as they turkey roasts, creating a moist and flavorful environment that infuses flavor into your turkey.
• ISI Gourmet Whip Plus with Injector Needle: besides making perfect whipped cream and foams, the Gourmet Whip Plus can be used to brine your turkey. Fill the canister with a flavorful liquid and place an injector needle onto the nozzle to inject your turkey with moisture and flavor before roasting.
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